Apparently, Marshawn Lynch heard his critics this preseason, those who questioned his career workload and fitness following an early-camp holdout and who hailed the "rising stock" of backup Christine Michael. He had an answer for them: A season that, to date, has placed him second at his position in fantasy points (159), including a career-best 40-point game Sunday.
Lynch is a first-rounder who paid off this season, a success story surrounded by many tales of woe, especially the handful of players selected ahead of him.
With 10 weeks effectively in the books -- granted, there's one game to go Monday night, one which includes a fellow first-rounder -- let's take a look back at the first-round results in 2014, which don't look all that different from 2013:
As was the case last season, the first-round running back class has largely disappointed, with the exception of those middling picks: Lynch, and to a lesser degree, Forte and Foster (in the leagues in which he sneaked into the first round). Injuries have contributed, especially at wide receiver (an unexpected development), but injuries to running backs aren't especially unusual nowadays. It was frequently said this preseason that the bad luck exhibited by the 2013 first-round class -- Foster, Ray Rice, Martin, C.J. Spiller and Trent Richardson all significantly let their owners down then -- was a one-year aberration.
Granted, there are seven weeks yet to play, but assuming paces hold, are two years an aberration?
It's a primary reason I've argued that the first two rounds of your draft aren't about a locked-in positional strategy; it's value, value, value that you want.
Did I mention value?
Though his rookie campaign got a bit of a late start -- he made his NFL debut in Week 7, partly because he was nursing a shoulder injury at the beginning of the season -- Martavis Bryant on Sunday managed his fourth consecutive double-digit fantasy performance to begin his career. He is the first wide receiver since 1960 to manage that kind of streak to begin an NFL career, and his 66 fantasy points during that span put him atop a list of four wide receivers who managed at least 60 fantasy points in their first four games:
Bryant (Steelers), 66, 2014
Jerry Butler (Bills), 65, 1979
Bob Hayes (Cowboys), 62, 1965
Louis Lipps (Steelers), 60, 1984
Bryant's storyline was at least one positive in a terribly disappointing Pittsburgh Steelers performance in what was an outstanding-on-paper matchup at the New York Jets; his owners are surely thankful for the 80-yard touchdown he caught during garbage time. Without that pass, Bryant would've scored a mere six fantasy points, and fallen short of the aforementioned exclusive group.
Remarkably, Bryant has accomplished all this despite amassing half the targets (25) that Antonio Brown (50) has had the past four weeks combined. Brown has 61 fantasy points during that stretch, just five shy of Bryant, meaning that while Bryant has clearly elevated himself into the weekly-consideration class at his position, don't mistake him for a leading man on his team.
Half a game can sometimes make a week
Sunday night football had itself another captivating fantasy story, as Aaron Rodgers threw for 315 yards and six touchdowns before halftime, the latter matching the NFL's all-time record. All 36 of Rodgers' fantasy points were scored before halftime, and he attempted just three passes, all incompletions, before exiting midway through the third quarter, with his Green Bay Packers leading 45-0.
Rodgers' fantasy owners might be complaining today that he wasn't left in to pad their scores, but his accomplishment in a blowout isn't especially unusual. In fact, five players since the beginning of 2001 scored more fantasy points before halftime, four of those also occurring in blowouts. Here are the first- and second-half statistics for the top 10 in first-half fantasy points:
So ... which kind of fantasy owner are you? The one who enjoys watching his player make your fantasy day in 30 minutes' time, so that you can relax for the final 30 as you watch him stand on the sideline? Or does watching that player rest frustrate you in terms of potentially lost fantasy production, and you prefer a player whose team remains in a 60-minute (or more) dogfight even if it means sitting at the edge of your seat as his production is more evenly spread out?
Oh, how nerves treat each fantasy owner differently.
Ho-hum, another big Peyton Manning game
It happens so often, he might as well have his own weekly section in this space. Peyton Manning enjoyed a 29-point fantasy day, extending his streak of 20-point fantasy games to 11. That puts him within one game of the longest such streak since 1960, owned by, of all people, the aforementioned Rodgers.
But more notably, Manning could've tallied even more fantasy production, had he not sat the entire fourth quarter due to his Denver Broncos leading 41-10. By scoring 29 fantasy points, Manning extended his since-1960 standard of games with at least 25 points to 42; Drew Brees is second on that list, with 36. But Manning fell one point short of 30, a threshold he has achieved 13 times in his NFL career. Four players have more: LaDainian Tomlinson (20), Marshall Faulk (18), Steve Young (16) and Brees (14). Priest Holmes also has 13.
It's testament to Manning's consistency being his greatest strength, rather than his ability to break fantasy records (though he's pretty good at doing that, too).
It's the team, not the individual
Sticking with those Broncos, though Ronnie Hillman's fantasy owners weren't happy about it, C.J. Anderson stepped up with an unexpectedly good day, a 22-point outburst thanks to his 163 yards from scrimmage plus a receiving touchdown. Unfortunately, few owners in ESPN leagues capitalized, as Anderson was started in a mere 0.7 percent of leagues.
Anderson's arrival as a fantasy standout, however, is a captivating storyline from a team basis, as he continued the Broncos' historical pattern of developing productive running backs from nowhere. Since the beginning of the 2003 season, Anderson is the 12th Broncos running back to score at least 20 fantasy points in a game, which is three more than any other franchise has had during that time span.
Here are the 12, working backward: Anderson (1 instance), Ronnie Hillman (1), Knowshon Moreno (9), Willis McGahee (2), Correll Buckhalter (1), Tatum Bell (5), Andre Hall (1), Mike Bell (2), Mike Anderson (3), Reuben Droughns (3), Quentin Griffin (1), Clinton Portis (6).
Simply put, if it hasn't been the strength of the Broncos' offensive line -- a common explanation for their running backs' success during the Mike Shanahan era -- surely it has been their quarterback's skill helping open up running lanes. For so long as Manning remains under center, keep that thought tucked away if you're wondering whether any future, "unknown" Broncos running back handed a start is worth your fantasy while.
Fantasy owners typically cannot stand running back-by-committees, but what the Cleveland Browns did this past Thursday night at least pleased those forced to trust any of their three primary backs: Terrance West (15), Ben Tate (11) and Isaiah Crowell (10) all scored double-digit fantasy points, becoming the first team to have as many as three backs do so in the same game this season.
It turns out, however, that the feat isn't all that unusual as far as NFL history is concerned. Since 1960, 156 teams have now accomplished that -- and that's excluding AFL squads that did it in the '60s -- but only 17 of those instances have occurred since 2000. What was unusual about the Browns' performance was that Darren Sproles wasn't involved, as he has been a participant in seven of the past 11 such instances:
Meanwhile, across the field, the Cincinnati Bengals scored but three points on 165 total yards. More important, not a single member of their squad reached the five-point fantasy plateau; kicker Mike Nugent led the way with four.
As with the three-running-backs-in-double-digits feat, what the Bengals did also wasn't entirely unusual throughout NFL history, as they became the 125th team since 1960 to fail to have a single player -- including the team defense/special teams -- score as many as five fantasy points. Thirty-six of those have occurred since 2000, with the most recent team to do it the New York Giants, in Week 3 of the 2013 season (Rueben Randle led the way with four).